1954 was to witness what is still arguably the greatest moment in German football history – Der Wunder von Bern or the “Miracle of Berne”.

Germany was only slowly starting to recover from the Second World War that had ended almost ten years previously, and their being allowed back to compete in the World Cup was seen by many as a small step towards normality. However not even the most optimistic person would have have believed that a German victory was possible, let alone a victory that arguably set the country on the path towards rehabilitation and acceptance by the international community. During the war years, the spirit of the Nationalmannschaft had kept alive by one man – and it was that man who was to guide the team to what was to be an astonishing victory in Switzerland, Nationaltrainer Sepp Herberger.

The “Mighty Magyars” of Hungary were the red-hot favourites, and had been unbeaten for thirty-one matches stretching over four years; scoring at the rate of over four per game, many saw their name etched on the trophy before the tournament even began. Germany had been drawn against the Hungarians in their opening group, but the curious vagaries of the competition meant that having beaten Turkey in their opening match they could rest a number of key players for their first phase tie against the tournament favourites, where they went down 8-3. The Turks were comprehensively beaten for a second time in the play-off tie, and when Herberger’s side beat Yugoslavia 2-0 they found themselves in a semi-final against old rivals Austria.

It was only after this semi-final that commentators had started to notice the German team – who with an inspired performance demolished the Austrians 6-1 as the Walter brothers Fritz and Ottmar grabbed a brace each. Perhaps they could give the Hunagrians a match after all.

First Phase Group 2 v Turkey, Wankdorf Stadion, Berne, 17.06.1954
Turkey

4-1 (1-1)
Schäfer 14., Klodt 52., O. Walter 60., Morlock 84. / Suat 2.

Germany FR: Turek – Laband, Kohlmeyer – Eckel, Posipal, Mai – B. Klodt, Morlock, O. Walter, F. Walter (c), Ha. Schäfer

Turkey: Turgay – Rıdvan, Basri – Erton, Çetin, Rober – Erol, Suat, Feridun, Burhan, Lefter

Referee: Jose da Costa Vieira (Portugal)
Assistants: István Zsolt (Hungary), Armand Merlotti (Switzerland)

Dismissals: – / –

Attendance: 28,000

First Phase Group 2 v Hungary, St. Jakob Stadium, Basel, 20.06.1954
Hungary

3-8 (1-3)
Pfaff 25., Rahn 77., Herrmann 81. / Kocsis 3., 21., 67., 78., Puskás 17., Hidegkuti 50., 54., J. Tóth 73.

Germany FR: Kwiatkowski – H. Bauer, Kohlmeyer – Posipal, Liebrich, Mebus – H. Rahn, Eckel, F. Walter (c), Pfaff, R. Herrmann

Hungary: Grosics – Buzánszky, Lantos – Bozsik, Lóránt, Zakariás – J. Tóth, Kocsis, Hidegkuti, Puskás, Czibor

Referee: William Ling (England)
Assistants: Werner Schicker (Switzerland), Benjamin Griffiths (Wales)

Dismissals: – / –

Attendance: 56,000

TeamPWDLFAPts
HungaryHungary (Q)22001734
GermanyGermany FR (Q)2101792
TurkeyTurkey2101842
South KoreaSouth Korea20020160

Other results: Hungary 9-0 South Korea; Turkey 7-0 South Korea.

* The first phase group system for the 1954 tournament was somewhat bizarre. There were two seeded teams in each group, and two unseeded ones; instead of playing each other once, each team would play one seeded team and one unseeded team. To make matters even more complicated, there was no method employed to separate the teams beyond the number of points attained – which meant that teams tied on the same number of points would have a play-off to determine who progressed.

Having already beaten Turkey, Germany were already on two points when they met Hungary; knowing that the Turks would beat minnows South Korea in their second game, Herberger’s squad could afford to take things easy knowing that they would be facing a play-off match against the Turks. A draw after extra time in the play-off would have resulted in lots being drawn to determine the winner.

First Phase Group 2 Playoff v Turkey, Hardturm Stadium, Zürich, 23.06.1954
Turkey

7-2 (3-1)
O. Walter 7., Schäfer 12., 79., Morlock 30., 60., 77., F. Walter 62. / Mustafa 21., Lefter 82.

Germany FR: Turek – Laband, H. Bauer – Eckel, Posipal, Mai – B. Klodt, Morlock, O. Walter, F. Walter (c), Ha. Schäfer

Turkey: Şükrü – Rıdvan, Basri – Naci, Çetin, Rober – Erol, Lefter, Necmettin, Erton, Cöskun

Referee: Jose da Costa Vieira (Portugal)
Assistants: István Zsolt (Hungary), Armand Merlotti (Switzerland)

Dismissals: – / –

Attendance: 28,000

Quarter-Final v Yugoslavia, Charmilles Stadium, Genève, 27.06.1954
Yugoslavia

2-0 (1-0)
Horvat og 9., Rahn 85. / –

Germany FR: Turek – Laband, Kohlmeyer – Eckel, Liebrich, Mai – H. Rahn, Morlock, O. Walter, F. Walter (c), Ha. Schäfer

Yugoslavia: Beara – Stanković, Crnković – Čajkovski, Horvat, Boškov – Milutinović, Bobek, Mitić, Vukas, Zebec

Referee: István Zsolt (Hungary)
Assistants: Laurent Franken (Belgium), Karl Buchmüller (Switzerland)

Dismissals: – / –

Attendance: 17,000

Semi-Final v Austria, St. Jakob Stadium, Basel, 30.06.1954
Austria

6-1 (1-0)
Schäfer 31., Morlock 47., F. Walter pen 54., pen 64., O. Walter 61., 89. / Probst 51.

Germany FR: Turek – Posipal, Kohlmeyer – Eckel, Liebrich, Mai – H. Rahn, Morlock, O. Walter, F. Walter (c), Ha. Schäfer

Austria: Zeman – Hanappi, Schleger – Ocwirk, Happel, Koller – R. Körner, Wagner, Stojaspal, Probst, A. Körner

Referee: Vincenzo Orlandini (Italy)
Assistants: Arthur Ellis (England), Karl Buchmüller (Switzerland)

Dismissals: – / –

Attendance: 58,000

The final would see Germany take on Hungary, a side that had dominated European and world football for most of the post-war period. Probably the most talented squad of players of their generation, the “Magical Magyars” led my the mercurial Ferenc Puskás were expected to sweep aside the Germans and claim their first world title. Herberger’s side had been well beaten 8-3 by the Hungarians in the opening stage of the tournament, and even the most fanatical German supporter would have at best been hoping for a decent performance in what was bound to be an inevitable defeat.

After a mere eight minutes of football in Berne’s Wankdorf Stadium it looked as though all such thoughts had been flushed away; the Hungarians were already two goals to the good, and a repeat of the first phase match looked a likely possibility. But Sepp Herberger was never one for sticking to the script. Within minutes of the second Hungarian goal the men in Schwarz und Weiß had pulled a goal back through Nürnberg’s Max Morlock, and with eighteen minutes on the clock they were level thanks to Essen’s glamour boy Helmut Rahn, known as “Der Boss”. Half-time came without further scoring, and with it the rain – known in Germany as Fritz-Walter-Wetter – “Fritz Walter weather”.

Utilising Adi Dassler’s innovative removeable boot studs to manage the change in the condition of the pitch and calling on ‘keeper Toni Turek who made a string of stunning saves to keep the marauding Magyars at bay, the score was still level with six minutes left on the clock. And then came the voice of radio commentator Herbert Zimmermann:

Jetzt Deutschland am linken Flügel durch Schäfer. Schäfers Zuspiel zu Morlock wird von den Ungarn abgewehrt – und Bozsik, immer wieder Bozsik, der rechte Läufer der Ungarn am Ball. Er hat den Ball… Verloren diesmal, gegen Schäfer… Schäfer nach innen geflankt… Kopfball… Abgewehrt. Aus dem Hintergrund müsste Rahn schießen! Rahn schießt! Tooooor! Tooooor! Tooooor! Tooooor!

[silence]

Tor für Deutschland! Drei zu zwei führt Deutschland. Halten Sie mich für verrückt, halten Sie mich für übergeschnappt!

Translated as best as follows:

Now Germany come down the left through Schäfer. Schäfer’s pass to Morlock is blocked by the Hungarians – and Bozsik, still Bozsik, the Hungarian right-winger on the ball. He has the ball… But loses it this time, to Schäfer… Schäfer crosses inside… Header… Blocked. Rahn at the back must shoot! Rahn shoots! Gooooal! Gooooal! Gooooal! Gooooal!

[silence]

Goal for Germany! Germany lead 3-2! Call me mad! Call me completely crazy!

It was not quite over though. The Hungarians threw forward everything they had left, and Ferenc Puskás even had a goal disallowed. But not even the great Puskás was going to spoil this day. As the English referee William Ling whistled for full time, Zimmerman again went into overdrive:

Aus! Aus! Aus! – Aus! – Das Spiel ist aus! Deutschland ist Weltmeister, schlägt Ungarn mit drei zu zwo Toren im Finale in Bern!

It’s over! It’s over! It’s over! – It’s over! – The game is over! Germany are World Champions, and have beaten Hungary by three goals to two in the final in Berne!

As someone who was born seventeen years after Der Wunder von Bern, one can only imagine what it was like to have been a German on that day. In 2006 when the German team rode on the crest of popular wave to reach the semi-final and in 1998 when the French team sparked a new sense of national pride the impact was immense – though I’d imagine what was felt all across Germany immediately after that final whistle blew on that wet July afternoon in Switzerland went way beyond any of these.

When one considers the impact that this game had on German society, one can see some logic in Bill Shankly’s now famous quote about football being more important than life and death. Given its historical significance and impact, the triumph in 1954 immediately became part of the fabric of postwar German history and was forever burned into the collective memory; even if the Mannschaft were to win another World Cup and score a hundred goals in doing so, Der Wunder von Bern will always be seen as the country’s greatest sporting success.

Final v Hungary, Wankdorf Stadion, Berne, 04.07.1954
Hungary

3-2 (2-2)
Morlock 10., Rahn 18., 84. / Puskás 6., Csibor 8.

Germany FR: Turek – Posipal, Kohlmeyer – Eckel, Liebrich, Mai – H. Rahn, Morlock, O. Walter, F. Walter (c), Ha. Schäfer

Hungary: Grosics – Lantos, Buzánszky – Bozsik, Lóránt, Zakariás – M. Tóth, Kocsis, Hidegkuti, Puskás, Czibor

Referee: William Ling (England)
Assistants: Vincenzo Orlandini (Italy), Benjamin Griffiths (Wales)

Dismissals: – / –

Attendance: 62,500

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